Do you remember your first lesson in proper eye contact? Who taught you how to handshake? Any tips on making apt introductions? I had forgotten all about these childhood lessons until I attended a Business Savvy Workshop on business etiquette and the importance in proper eye contact, the ultimate greeting of handshaking, business card protocol, and savvy introductions. These were memories of real-life lessons shelved in the back of my mind that were rarely and vaguely referenced in current gatherings.
Growing up in Mexico I have distinctive memories of attending countless wedding and quinceañera celebrations. These BIG family events were opportunities to meet first, second, and third cousins coming from the far reaches of the country and abroad. Close friends of the family, compadres, comadres, and ahijados alike, from both sides of the families, gathering to celebrate la familia, a perfect setting for real-life lessons on etiquette.
Having already made the move to the United States for the school year, I was having difficulty making the transition between languages and cultures. At the start of the school year I experienced a taxing memory recall of the English vocabulary I had acquired the year before. Then, to begin the summer once in Mexico, I stumbled through my Spanish conversations, struggling to evoke the warm words that had always resonated ardently with my native land. I remember an opportunity to start the summer with a family celebration as we arrived in time to see la familia that I’d missed for so long. I sat alone and just watched, taking in all that was home, all that was comforting. My mother quickly interrupted my wistful stupor to introduce me back into la familia.
Lesson one, an introduction to older family members. I could not hear much less understand the proper introductory discourse for this social interaction. I heard my name and not much else. I looked to others to take the lead, however I continued to puzzle over the vocal and physical communication of the other. What was he saying? What was I to respond to her?
Lesson two, an example of a proper handshake. Not knowing what to say I grumbled some gibberish, neither in Spanish nor in English, and punctuated it with my name, all the while taking a hand into my own for a weak and quick single handshake. In, out, and on to the next gibberish, name punctuation, and slip o’ the hand.
Lesson three, absolutely, unequivocally NO staring! I have always been a people-watcher. What can I say? People intrigue me, customs intrigue me, and language intrigues me. I enjoy sitting back to watch those around me, what are they wearing, what are they doing, how are they doing it, where are they from and where are they going? I stare. I’m not criticizing, I’m not judging, I’m simply curious and admiring the foreignness of others. Therefore making eye contact was chided for being too bold and too critical.
Could these lessons have been better? Sure, we parents can, on occasion, miss an opportune situation for an effective and life-learning experience. Could I have misinterpreted the lessons? Absolutely. I was already resisting the cross-cultural experience of my youth, stubbornly rejecting language and its wonders. So these may be the lessons from which, as a parent, I use to give my children the experience in social etiquette and the savvy eye-catching, firm handshaking introductions that will allow them to have a confident social and business awareness. Or rather, the lessons of what NOT to do.
Thanks to Sharon Schweitzer of the Protocol & Etiquette Academy for sharing her talent in the realm of “interaction and behavior in local and international business situations.” I feel I am better prepared to meet, greet, and introduce myself and others as I share my talent in multicultural experiences. I now project a confident and polite eye contact, extend a firm handshake, while having the pleasure of meeting you and letting you know what makes me, Teresa Carbajal Ravet.